UCF community fired up over guns on campus
UPDATE: The Senate Higher Education Committee passed a legislative proposal 6-3 that would allow individuals with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on college campuses.
The proposal is in the Judiciary Committee as of roughly 1 p.m. Tuesday. If it is passed by the Judiciary Committee, it would then advance to the Rules Committee.
ORIGINAL STORY: Wedged between a shooting at Florida State University and another at Bethune-Cookman, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee pushed through a proposal that would allow guns on college campuses.
In mid-February, the committee voted 3-2 in favor of the legislative proposal nicknamed "guns on campus bill," which would allow those with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms on Florida college campuses. The proposal is currently under review by the Senate Higher Education Committee, and must be approved through three additional committees before reaching the floor.
Currently, guns are only allowed on campus when stored inside locked vehicles of persons with proper permits.
As the bill moves up in the process, university student body presidents from around Florida, including UCF's Weston Bayes, have voiced concerns over the legislation.
"From what we've seen with different violence incidents, especially college campus incidents, and the FSU recent tragedy, it's just been kind of apparent that it's not really the best place for guns to be on campus," Bayes said. "It's important for students to feel safe as well."
UCF College Democrats President Chelsea Daley formed Students Against Guns on Campus with other student organizations in order to protest the bill. Along with petitions and tabling, the coalition will be holding a rally on campus Friday.
Daley said adding guns to the combination of alcohol, different mental states and college stress may make students' safety on campus more vulnerable.
Proponents of the bill have also formed an alliance on campus called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. The group's director, Wesley Chambers, a physics doctoral student, said the legislation would allow students to practice self-defense in situations that called for it.
"Those individuals who are licensed to carry shouldn't be prohibited from carrying on campus," Chambers said. "That right shouldn't be limited when we walk onto campus."
According to Florida law, individuals seeking to pursue a concealed carry license must be at least 21 years old, and agree to a background check. In order to qualify, the license requires a proof of competency with a firearm, such as a training certificate.
But some opposers say the training may not be sufficient enough. In fact, UCF Police Chief Richard Beary, who is also a trained firearms instructor, goes as far as to say the "concealed weapons permit is just an absolute joke in the state of Florida."
"If you can get a concealed weapons permit in the state of Florida by going and sitting through a one-hour class at a gun show and never have to demonstrate that you can safely use your gun, I'm telling you, you are a bigger threat to our students than you are a help," Beary said. "This whole mindset that 'oh, well if somebody's there and they've got a concealed weapons permit they can be the hero and end this gun fight' — garbage. They are a bigger threat to the students and they're a bigger threat to themselves than they are assisting law enforcement."
Kathryn Grant, state director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, said that the training process for operating a firearm isn't equivalent to being trained to respond to the very situation proponents say the defender would be of use during, such as in a campus shooting.
"Concealed carry permit requirements are so minimal in comparison to trained law enforcement who are … required to constantly be updating their skills and developing their skills," Grant said.
Having a felony conviction or a history of drug or alcohol abuse could hinder eligibility for concealed carry in the first place, according to Florida law. But Grant said her main concern with the possibility of concealed carry on campus is the training itself.
"The real question is this: Would the gun holder be able to respond appropriately?" she said.
Robert Eagar, Southeast director of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which is advocating for the legislation, teaches a basic pistol shooting course in Georgia, and said that courses allow an individual to learn how to shoot "accurately and effectively."
"We're not proposing that everyone bring a firearm on campus. We are proposing that people who do that elsewhere be allowed to on campus," Eagar said.
Beary pointed out, however, that among all of the experts proponents choose to talk to about allowing guns on campus, campus police officers are not included.
"They've made it sound like, 'Oh my God, crime's out of control on campus.' That's just not true," he said. "I think they're using fear to get people to buy into this." He added that the thought of adding guns to a mixture of alcohol and sporting events is "insanity" and the bill wouldn't make our campuses any safer.
Florida's university system, which comprises the Board of Governors, the 12 public universities and their police chiefs, released a statement last month in opposition to the legislation.
UCF Police officer Peter Stephens said the department is not in favor of the legislation, but would have to implement any changes if it were to pass as law. Echoing Grant, Stephens remarked that all officers are required to participate in weapons and firearms training twice per year, including discretionary shooting, contrary to citizens with concealed weapon permits.
In January, an identical version of the Senate bill, HB 4005, was approved by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, and is now in the Higher Education & Workforce Subcommittee.
"Crime is always going to be an issue on college campus, because college students are vulnerable targets for criminals," Bayes said. "I don't think bringing guns into the mix is a good move."
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.